Does Too Much Salt Cause Headaches?

Limiting Your Salt Intake May Help

Too much salt may be a factor in the headaches you experience, but the relationship between salt intake and headaches isn’t well-understood. A few recent studies have found that people with hypertension (high blood pressure) and chronic headaches may benefit from a reduced-salt diet, which is generally recommended for maintaining overall health as well.

Other studies have found that higher salt intake is associated with fewer migraine headaches. Still others suggest that it's the cutting back on sodium (especially salt in processed foods) that can lead to withdrawal symptoms including headaches, affecting children as well as adults.

This article looks at some of the research into the effects of a low-salt diet on chronic headaches. It also offers information about healthy salt intake, which offers benefits beyond any link between salt and headaches.

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What the Research Says

Studies that investigate the connection between salt intake and headaches vary based on the population studied, the type of headache, and other factors about the research.

Salt, Headaches, and Hypertension

A 2014 study found that people with elevated blood pressure who ate a lower sodium diet had fewer headaches. The study included 390 adults over the age of 21 with either pre-hypertension or stage I hypertension.

Participants were randomized to either a salt-rich diet or a low-salt diet known as the DASH diet. The DASH diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and foods that are low in saturated fats. The results revealed that those who ate foods lower in sodium had fewer headaches than those who ate higher sodium foods.

A similar 2016 study looked at the relationship between sodium intake and headaches in 975 older adults with hypertension. The study authors concluded that reduced sodium intake was also associated with a reduced risk of headache in this group.

What Is the DASH Diet?

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is one of two that meets the standards for American Heart Association recommendations. The Mediterranean Diet is the other. DASH allows a wide range of foods, including some meat and dairy products, while limiting fats and salt.

Salt and Migraine Headaches

Other studies have looked into the relationship between salt intake and migraine headaches, specifically. A 2015 study followed 650 people with migraines over a period of six months. It found that people who decreased their carbohydrate consumption and increased their salt intake had fewer migraines. 

A 2021 paper also found a relationship between migraines and salt intake. The 262 participants in the study were between the ages of 20 and 50 and had a migraine diagnosis. Salt intake was measured with a urine sample. Researchers concluded that higher salt levels corresponded to longer, more severe migraine headaches.

Study Limitations

There were some problems with these studies. The first two, for example, only looked at participants with prehypertension or hypertension, and were not specific to the type of headache that participants suffered from.

The authors of the migraine study also noted that there wasn’t necessarily a causal relationship between high levels of salt and migraine. For example, it’s possible that people with migraines may simply crave salt when they’re experiencing headaches.

Overall, these studies suggest a relationship between sodium intake and headaches, but more research is needed before healthcare providers can be sure there is a causal relationship.

How Much Salt Should You Consume?

Most Americans consume about 3,400 mg of salt each day. This is more than twice the American Heart Association’s (AHA) recommendation of 1,500 mg, or about 3/4th tsp a day. Other organizations recommend 2,300 mg daily.

Because high salt intake is also associated with other health conditions like high blood pressure, it is a good idea to limit your intake of salt regardless of whether or not you experience headaches.

Signs You Might Be Getting Too Much Salt

Signs that you are getting too much salt in your diet include:

  • Puffiness
  • Bloating
  • Weight gain

In very severe cases of excess salt intake, salt poisoning can occur. This is called hypernatremia, and it can result in dangerous and even fatal effects, such as kidney damage, seizures, and coma.

Other signs of salt poisoning include:

  • Intense thirst
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness

Summary

A few studies have found a relationship between high salt intake and headaches. Participants in these studies reported longer, more severe headaches with greater dietary salt intake.

It’s too soon, however, to know whether a high intake of salt actually has a causal relationship with headaches. However, since high salt intake is associated with other health problems, it’s a good idea to limit your salt intake even if you don’t get headaches.

A Word From Verywell

It might be a worthwhile experiment to see if cutting back on your salt intake helps prevent headaches. If anything, salt reduction is beneficial for your cardiovascular health. Speak with your healthcare provider first to formulate a plan of action.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you get rid of a sodium headache?

    Eating foods with potassium, such as bananas, sweet potatoes, and avocados, can reduce the effects of sodium in the body and lower blood pressure. Next time you have a “salt headache,” eat some potassium-rich foods and drink extra water to help flush the sodium from your system.

  • How do you flush salt out of your body fast?

    You can help your body get rid of salt faster by drinking lots of water and eating foods with a high water content (like watermelon). This will help your kidneys produce more urine to flush the salt out. Breaking a sweat by exercising or visiting a sauna will help your body detox from the salt faster, too.

  • Does salt affect blood pressure immediately?

    Excess salt intake can affect blood pressure very quickly. Research shows that your blood vessels’ ability to dilate can become impaired within 30 minutes after eating too much salt.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Amer M, Woodward M, Appel LJ. Effects of dietary sodium and the DASH diet on the occurrence of headaches: results from randomised multicentre DASH-Sodium clinical trial. BMJ Open. 2014;4(12):e006671. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-006671

  3. Chen L, Zhang Z, Chen W, Whelton PK, Appel LJ. Lower sodium intake and risk of headaches: Results from the trial of nonpharmacologic interventions in the elderly. Am J Public Health. 2016;106(7):1270-5. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2016.303143

  4. American Heart Association. What Is the Mediterranean Diet?

  5. Stanton AA. Migraine cause and treatment. Ment Health Family Med. 2015;11:69-72. 

  6. Arab A, Khorvash F, Heidari Z, Askari G. Is there a relationship between dietary sodium and potassium intake and clinical findings of a migraine headache? Br J Nutr. 2021;127(12):1839-1848. doi:10.1017/S000711452100283X

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sodium and food sources.

  8. American Heart Association. Unhealthy foods.

  9. American Heart Association. Effects of excess sodium infographic.

  10. Poison Control. Sodium: Too much of a good thing.

  11. American Heart Association. A primer on potassium.

  12. American Heart Association. How much harm can a little excess salt do? Plenty.

By Colleen Doherty, MD
 Colleen Doherty, MD, is a board-certified internist living with multiple sclerosis.